On the agenda at last night’s Place Scrutiny Committee was the Review of Shoebury Common Flood Defence Improvements.
This report recommended that we note the options review document – Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review, December 2014. This document was prepared for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council by Mott MacDonald.
I voted with the Conservative administration through 2013, and I explained my reasons at the time (see Shoebury Flood Defences – doing the affordable for an example). Basically, in times of constrained finances I had to vote for the cheapest option.
To be honest, the costs quoted did vary at the time, but on every occasion these showed that the Council’s preferred option as the cheapest. Given that we had to improve the sea defences in the east of borough (and so ‘no wall’ was not a viable option) I felt I had no alternative. My view was supported by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, as well as the Conservatives.
To quote from my post (written on 17th October 2013): The Council preferred scheme is costed at £4.5 million; this compares to £9.3 million for the BERA scheme and £8 million for the FoSC option.
I was of the opinion that we had to have a review, there clearly was a lot of ill-feeling towards the council’s scheme by those living in Shoeburyness. However, I expected to speak (I called in the report) in defence of the previous administrations recommendations. I could not see how the facts could have changed.
I then began to read the Mott MacDonald report. The executive summary included this: While the proposed preferred scheme within the PAR would have provided a functional and robust flood defence with a reasonable economic return it is clearly unacceptable to local resident groups in its current form.
So far, so good. However, I then began to examine the summaries for each option. I confess to not being overly concerned to the details behind each scheme, when money is so tight one has to focus on what each one costs.
This table summarises the seven schemes’ costs.
||Whole life costs
|PAR Option 2
|PAR Option 3
Costs are in £millions
PAR – Project Appraisal Report – Black & Veatch Project
FoSC- Friends of Shoebury Common
MARMUS – also sourced by FoSC
BERA – Burges Road Residents Association
The above table shows that the Council’s preferred option (PAR) is not the cheapest – far from it. It is the second-most expensive. This raises some very serious concerns, concerns that I aired last night.
The first is about which set of figures to believe. Whilst the schemes deliver different solutions, when a decision is being taken based on cost then these numbers have to be right. Cost was a significant feature of the discussions we had in 2013, and on every occasion we were assured that the Council’s preferred option delivered the best value for money.
I am either very stupid when it comes to basic arithmetic, or I have been misled, misinformed, or plain lied to. And not just me. This applies to all fifty-one councillors who sat in the chamber last year.
This is no trivial affair. We could have spent over £34million based on duff information; £34million of tax-payers money.
I could be wrong. There could be a very simple explanation. However, nothing I heard last night was in the slightest bit satisfactory.
We all know that the last, Conservative, administration liked to fritter money on useless vanity projects, and this looks another to add to an already long list.